The big fat sleepy Indian travels

A ten hour long flight is a great time to introspect, come a wee bit closer to your inner goddess ( courtesy 50 shades of whatever), catch up with some cramped sections of sleep, watch the latest movies you have missed, or write a blog, which I did. In fact I had absolutely no such intention, but I could not sleep. The flight was half empty, I was pretty tired, hence found a group of three empty seats together, which I occupied before anyone else got a similar idea.

I was feeling decidedly cold so decided to keep my long jacket on, fully zipped as I tried to make myself comfortable. After several moments of counting the sheep I had seen in Scottish highlands, when I still could not catch a couple of winks, my mind started wandering and I thought it might have been so great if the knee length coat had a gadget build in, where, if I pressed a button, the overcoat would open up from the bottom, another inner layer would come out, all the way down to the foot, and lo and behold, I would have a sleeping bag. Wouldn’t that be like cool? Then I could flop down anywhere on the floor and catch my winks, instead of trying to make a bed out of the cramped uneven too small seats.

Last two weeks, we spent going around the beautiful cities and countryside of the British Isles. As we roamed around UK, sometimes in buses, trains, tubes and flights, I noticed my entire family, and extended family nodding off in their seats. In unison, everyone’s head would drop and bob up and down with the uneven roads ( uneven roads and UK, not really), reminded me of the head bobbing dolls you place on the car dashboard. Once upon a time, I could not imagine myself sleeping on a bus, but in the current dowager status, anything is possible. Except my quiet niece, who would put her head against the window pane and go off to sleep as soon as she boarded a vehicle. Maybe to avoid talking to us mere mortals, or maybe just to sleep.

Even after coming back from the hectic weeks, my sleep starved body is still creaking and groaning. Why, why did the two weeks have to be all run and no sleep, I am so dog tired, all I want to do is lift up my legs, and die. My ageing, creaking bones, do not have the energy of my 20 yr old prodigal son, and I have hitherto refused to accept the fact. As I ran huffing and puffing, filling my days with oodles of touristy things that all Indian tourists must do when in England and other countries of similar nature. As soon as you reach the spots of the picture postcards, out come the phones and cameras, and everyone must take a independent selfie with the iconic background and then we also must remember to take pictures together, with everyone saying cheese, and my bro-in-law has to take all the random clicks where u may see the family or, maybe a finger or back or a cow or some other piece of anatomy that proves you were there when the random click was being taken. Amidst all this rigmarole, we forget to actually see the place with bare eyes, but then we middle class Indian tourists are like that only. We have to fill one moment with hundreds, never mind the quality, so long as the quantity is enough, the purpose is achieved.

And I have to tell you this one more well known fact about us, we eat, everywhere, we have to eat on the bus where the guide has explicitly told us not to, right in front of him, and he has no option but to look away as we happily munch on all the puri bhujiya, sandwiches, chips and nuts, that our backpacks are able to carry. Having hoarded all that could possibly be taken from flight and hotels, we made most optimal use of the salt and pepper sachets and coffee pouches and fruits. Since we feel hungry as soon as we board the bus, or train, our hunger pangs are directly tied to the bus engine starting, and if we are hungry, our frustrated half anglicized kids have to be hungry too. And we just don’t eat quietly, we have to ask everyone on what they want, in our usual loud voice, drowning down the guide as he tries in vain to tell us about the Vikings and the Normans. And once that is satisfied, we go back to nodding. And we have to use the wifi, wherever available, which is bloody well, almost everywhere, just in case, we don’t find it further ahead. Saying Hi all the friends who have no interest in knowing where we are, but telling them that we are touring UK, has a charm of its own, specially when you know they are sweating it out in the Indian summer.

You can make out Indian tourists from afar. They are the ones with the biggest backpacks full of Indian snacks, they have the biggest cameras and they talk loudest and they are the first to reach a spot for the selfie moment, followed by the remaining 15 in the family immediately queued up, while others wait patiently for the party to finish. We love taking the hop on hop off buses, and talking all the while, never listening to the painstakingly recorded commentary. And of course, every stop, we have to visit the toilet, कल हो न हो, except when it is a paid one, then our uretary muscles suddenly develop the courage to wait till the next stop. Which self respecting Indian is going to pay 20 Rs for a washroom visit! We are the first to leave the bus, hustling and bustling, and the last ones to come back with the self assurance of the back benchers- nobody can leave us behind.

When we are any headcount more than one, crossing the road is a project. In India, you know you can’t trust the drivers or the lights and you make a dash for dear life when you need to cross. But in UK, you cross like civilized people. Invariably we would find that 1/2 of us have crossed and gone ahead, albeit in the wrong direction, one group is waiting for the right to walk while the rest have given up on the UK road crossing system and crossed without the zebra fellow around without worrying about the buses and taxis. And then we have to use our God gifted tremendous lung power, to collect and count all of us, before repeating the scenario. By the time the trip ended, we had mastered the art of crossing with the masses.

And as soon as we feel cold, we start zipping up the jackets and blazers of our 20 yr old adult children, amidst complaints and frantic cries of Maa, it ain’t cold, falling on deaf ears. Out comes the fluffy caps with the फुन्दा and continuous muttering of, uff, why does it have to be so cold. God forbid, if we enter into a restaurant, we have to visit the loo, before, during and after the dinner, everyone has to order different food, completely confusing the waiter, as we try to pronounce the unpronounceable dishes with our Indian tongues, finally giving up, just pointing towards the dish works most of the time.

A 12 yr old, who wanted to spend money wherever possible, just because he wanted to, and would burst into tears at the drop of a hat unless allowed to hug his sister anywhere on the road, a 20 yr old fully excited and charged son, who was always full of energy at the end of the day also, and his opposite, 20 yr old, perennially sleep infused daughter, who favorite pastime was nodding off, we were a varied bunch.

From the land of Oscar Wilde to the bonnie bonnie banks of Loch Lomond, to the hustle and bustle of the London streets. A weather that would vary from quite cold to very cold, dry to rainy in a matter of minutes, winds that made you want to run indoors, when there is nothing but open spaces and a few pieces of stones. Walking tours to hoho buses, meeting big Rex, Scottish humor to whisky, ( why did the farmer not know how many sheep he had, because he fell asleep every time he started counting). Making sure we don’t miss anything remotely free, and flopping down on the broken spring bed back at the room. Lack of sleep, but no lack of enthusiasm for the gardens and the castles, somebody needs to tell the Scottish that 4 walls and a roof do not a castle make. Peering inside 10, Downing Street and Windsor castle to catch a glimpse of the high and mighty, fighting at the tube station when confused with which line to take, UK must be glad to see the last of us leave.

Achoo!

I hate catching cold. I wish I were a bad fielder. But catch it, I do every time the season fluctuates. It is the silliest malady ever. It makes you feel sick, look sick, but the doctor doesn’t give you a thing. The family refuses to treat it as an ailment. So running red घायल nose or not, it cannot be used as an excuse to skip office and sleep. Well, I have a cold il my lose today as u cal see. (Replace l by n in the right places). With a headache between the eyes and aching throat and a reindeer nose, I am wearing a jacket with the hoodie on and a handkerchief permanently wrapped around a finger (I am sure u understand why a finger can go where no hand can). My family decided to laugh at me and poke sarcasm – looks like you are in Kashmir. So I decided to take revenge by skipping the spoken word. Who knows, it may be the best medicine yet.

The worst part about this no-cure-disease is that lying down makes it worse. Your breathing apparatus goes faulty and you have to use the closest spare part to breathe, which means you get thirsty soon, and then you have to drink water and then you need to relieve yourself and well, you get the drift. And then you have to breathe the vicksy steam which gets into other pores and blocks your vision and hearing ability too. And the world does not care about mere common cold, which happens to the mango people. You should at least get a more respectable disease like Dengue or Ebola or H1N1 which make the front page news.

I never had issues with fever and flu kind of symptoms. I dealt with it often enough when young. Every month at times. My dad was prompt to take me to the nearest clinic, squat on the handle of the bicycle earlier and carrier later. The only part of the visit I hated was the apparatus they put down the throat to look down into it. I gagged every time it happened and the only remark of the doctor used to be “you are ultra sensitive”. Once I was so ( for want of a better word) so sensitive, I puked even before it was put in my mouth. I would then take a week of antibiotics and get better only to repeat the cycle few weeks later. Unlike a friend who did not believe in doctors. She would brave the illness for as long as she could and finally go and pay the doctors fees, get a prescription and immediately feel better.

I was in class VII, I think, when I almost broke my leg. That time my only unfulfilled wish was – I wish I had broken my leg, so many people would have come to visit me, I would have been almost famous. As I was returning home from school in a three-wheeler, the driver took a turn, toppled over and the bar that you normally hold to keep your balance, fell over my leg and I was stuck under the auto, stunned, but nothing broken, lots of bruises as my leg rubbed against the road gravel and a deep gash where the bar pinned my leg. I screamed and shouted, till someone picked me up. I was rushed to the most handsome doctor around and I could just stare at him with a open mouth while he did the dressing. No school for the next few days. Oh no, I hated not going to school. Hearing the news, my friend came to visit me and I jumped with joy despite the pain, showing off the big bandage but that I could walk.

In class XI, I got infected with typhoid. And during exams at that. I still remember, 21 days of continuous high fever and body ache. All that was fine, the problem was my mom did not let me study. The popular belief that eyesight would be effected, took a precedence over my examination results. I had to find my own way out. Thanks to the fluffy fat रज़ाई , armed with a torch, my entire study during that month happened in torchlight beneath the quilt. My mom doesn’t know till date, how I cleared those exams without studying.

The most expensive cold was probably an year after my marriage. I had my usual episode of cold and cough and fever. Went to the lady doctor in the nearby apartment, who prescribed some antibiotics. A week, no change, she prescribed a higher dose. Another week went by, no change, all she did was, ” अच्छा, अभी भी ठीक नहीं हुआ, और strong medicine दे देते है।”  By his time everybody was worried. My husband came home from office and my dad told him with a very worried tone and face- Anuraag, तुमसे बहुत ज़रूरी बात करनी है। Poor guy, उसका तो दिल बैठ गया।  What happened? Jhilmil को इतने दिनों से बुखार है, ठीक ही नहीं हो रहा, क्या करे? Tell me something new, exasperated he. My dad had this awesome habit of much ado about nothing. Anyway, Time to switch doctors. Guess who treated me. For those who have read the electrical engineer’s handbook, B. L. Theraja’s son. He took couple of days and a small nasal surgery to take out an inch long obstruction from my nose, which, according to him, was the major cause of all my cold episodes in the past few years.

Pune has given me a new problem called allergic cold. The first year I landed here, from April to September, I sneezed every day without fail, and not a couple of light ones, but body shaking, earth shattering, face reddening sneezes which the faint-hearted cannot handle. It took me two years and various ( yeah, believe it or not) therapies to get rid of the same. Or maybe my system just got used to the weather and pollen.  Even today my dealing in spices is restricted as that just results in a Cetrizine later. Achooo!